exmh - An introduction to the exmh mail user interface.
This man page provides a quick tour through some of the basic features of
exmh version 2.0,
which provides a graphical user interface to the MH
After you read this tutorial you should be able to use exmh
basic daily mail reading needs. You will learn how to send mail, read mail,
manage your messages in folders, and adjust some of the exmh
by means of its Preferences user interface.
There is much more documentation available on-line through HTML pages that are
viewable from within exmh. In particular. exmh-use
about using the more advanced features of exmh
. If you are already an
experienced email user, you may want to just read the GETTING STARTED section
here and then skip to the exmh-use
man page. exmh-custom
describes how to customize exmh to suit your needs. exmh-ref
button and menu entry in exmh
and explains what they do. If you are an
user, this may be the most useful man page for you.
A cleaned up version of these man pages appear in the 3rd edition of the book by
Jerry Peek, MH & xmh: email for users and programmers
is published by O'Reilly & Associates.
Web versions of the documentation can also be found at
If you are already an MH or xmh
user, you can start with the examples
given in this tour. If you are a new user, exmh will set up your basic MH
environment. This includes a Mail directory which will have one subdirectory
for each mail folder, plus several files that MH mail uses for its own
purposes. You also get a ~/.mh_profile file that has user settings for MH and
uses the regular MH programs to manipulate your mail folders and
messages. This means it is compatible with command-line use of MH programs,
and its actions should be familiar if you are an experienced MH user. If you
are a new MH user, then the details of running MH programs is hidden behind
the graphical interface. The MH programs used by exmh are described towards
the end of this man page.
When you run exmh
for the first time it checks a few things in your MH
profile. In particular, it depends on the Draft-Folder and Unseen-Sequence
profile components. If these profile components are not present, a dialog
appears and exmh
can set them up for you. If you do not let exmh
create them nor set them up by hand, exmh
will not work properly. These
profile entries are described in the exmh-ref
has been designed to be very flexible, although it will work just
fine "out of the box". The Preference package used to adjust some of
the settings in exmh is introduced in this man page, and some of the important
settings are described here. A more complete guide to customizing exmh
is given in the exmh-custom
The command to start exmh
looks like this:
exmh -display hostname:0 &
If your DISPLAY environment variable is set up properly, then the -display
argument is not needed, and the command is even simpler. You do not need to
specify a -geometry argument, although exmh
supports one. Instead,
simply position and size the window using your window manager. When
quits, it saves the geometry information so you don't have to
worry about it. It does this with all its top level windows, so you can adjust
their position once and then forget about it. There are more command line
options described in the exmh-ref
You can add the exmh command to your startup X environment by editing your
startup file (like .xsession). You might also want to add it to the main menu
of your window manager. The details about this vary from X system to X system,
so ask your local X guru for help. Exmh
also supports the window
manager session protocol, which means that session-smart window managers will
automatically start exmh for you if you quit X when exmh
This section describes the main parts of the exmh
display. It probably
makes sense to run exmh at this point so you can follow along. There are three
sets of buttons in the interface, and three main subwindows.
. Along the top of the window is a set of buttons and menus
that apply to exmh
itself. Quit, for example, quits exmh
Help button pops up a menu, and you can select the entries there to get more
on-line information about exmh
. Use the left mouse button to select the
buttons and menus. A button will change its appearance when you press it, and
it will be invoked when you release the mouse over the button. If you slide
the mouse off the button before releasing it, nothing happens.
. Below the main buttons is the folder display subwindow.
It has a special button for each of your top-level folders, and these are
called folder labels
. As a new user you will see two folder labels, one
for inbox and drafts. The inbox folder is for your new messages, and the
drafts folder is for messages you are writing. If you have used MH (or xmh)
before, then you may have many more folders that will appear in this display.
The mouse bindings for folder labels are explained in the exmh-use
page. The Color Legend
from the Help menu also tells you how the folder
labels respond to mouse clicks.
. A second folder display called the folder cache
appear under the main folder display. This shows the folder labels for
recently used folders. If you only have a few folders this wastes screen real
estate. The PREFERENCES section near the end of this man page explains how to
turn this off via the Folder Cache preferences setting. If you are a
first-time exmh user, Exmh tries to guess if you need this display based on
the number of folders and nested folders you have.
. The middle set of buttons is for operations that apply to
folders. For example, you can create a new folder with the New button here.
The More... button displays a popup menu with several more operations you can
apply to folders. Some of these buttons will be introduced in this man page.
All of these buttons and menus are explained in detail in the exmh-ref
To the left of the folder buttons, summary information about the current folder
Table of Contents
. The middle subwindow of the display shows a summary of
the messages in the folder. It shows the message number, the date of the
message, the subject of the message, and, space permitting, the first few
words of the message. Left click on a line in the table of contents to view
the corresponding message. The mouse bindings for the table of contents are
described in more detail in the exmh-use
MH experts: The display in this window comes from both the MH scan program or MH
inc programs, so it is affected by the form specification used by these
Color and Monochrome Highlights
. Both the folder display and table of
contents windows use highlights to give you visual clues about the state of
messages and folders. Your unread messages are highlighted in the table of
contents and the folders that contain unread message are highlighted in the
folder display. Pull down the main Help menu and select Color Legend
display a key to the highlights for your display. The highlighting is covered
in more detail later in the exmh-use
man page. The exmh-custom
man page tells how you can control the highlighting yourself.
. Just below the table of contents is the status line. This
has two parts. The left part shows the name of the folder and the message
number for the current message, if any. The right part gives feedback about
is doing. After it displays a message, the Subject component
is displayed there.
Subwindow Resize Diamond.
The black diamond to the right of the status
line is used to change the size of the internal windows. Press the first mouse
button on this target and a horizontal line appears. Drag it up and down to
adjust the window sizes. Try dragging it all the way to the top and bottom of
the exmh window to see how the mode changes to adjust different windows.
The bottom row of buttons are for operations that apply
to the current message. Several of these operations will be introduced in this
man page. The right hand button labeled More... brings up a menu with several
more advanced message operations.
Many of these message operations have keyboard shortcuts that make
it easy to use exmh
with your hands on the keyboard. Some of the
short-cuts are introduced in this man page, and all of them are listed in the
. The bottom subwindow displays the current message, if
any. Some of the less interesting mail headers start out scrolled off the top
of this window.
A good way to test things out is to send a message to yourself. Here are the
steps you take to do that:
1. Click the Send button, which is in the Message buttons in the bottom group. A
new window will open that contains the template for your message. The built-in
editor, which is called sedit
, will start out with the insert cursor
positioned at the end of the first empty header line. Enter your user name
after the To: header. If you want to send the message to more than one person,
use a comma to separate the names.
2. Position the insert cursor on the next header line. You can do this a few
different ways. The most direct way is to click the left mouse button where
you want the cursor to be. There are keyboard shortcuts, too. If you press
<Tab> the editor will take you to the end of the next header line. You
can also use the arrow keys or some emacs-like bindings to move the cursor.
<Control-n> goes to the next line, <Control-f> moves the cursor
forward a character. <Control-p> moves up a line, and <Control-b>
moves back a character. The Simple Edit
menu entry shows you all the
3. The next header is the Cc: line. People listed in the Cc: line get a
"courtesy" (or "carbon") copy of the message. By
convention, the message is primarily for the people listed in the To:
component, and the people in the Cc: component are getting the message
"for information." In this case, you can leave the Cc: component
Move the insert cursor to the Subject: line and enter a Subject. The people that
receive your message will get an idea of what the message is about from the
subject, so take a moment to think of a good one. For this test, you can type
something like "exmh test message".
4. Make sure the headers are OK. In particular, make sure there are no blank
lines in the headers. The mail system treats a blank line as meaning
"end-of-headers", so you don't want to prematurely end the header
section. If you have a blank line, position the insert cursor on it and use
Backspace to remove the empty line.
Position the cursor at the start of the message body. You can use the mouse for
this, or you can press <Tab> twice quickly and the editor will position
the cursor correctly. When using the default MH message templates, this will
be right after the line of all dashes.
5. Type in your message. When you type in a long message, the lines will wrap
automatically at word boundaries. To get a blank line for paragraph
boundaries, press <Return>. The built-in editor supports several editing
commands that are based on the GNU emacs key bindings. If you select the
menu entry under the main Bindings menu, you will bring up
a dialog that lets you view and edit the key bindings.
6. If you are happy with the message, you send it by pressing the Send button at
the top-right corner of the window. The Send button will turn grey, and the
window will disappear once the message has been sent successfully.
If you do not want to send the message, press the Abort button instead. If you
want to save the message draft and continue to work on it later, press the
Save&Quit button. Working on a saved draft message is described in the
Send yourself a few messages, or have a friend send you a few test messages. You
will use these test messages to practice moving around in a folder and
deleting messages. Make one of the messages pretty long so you can practice
scrolling through it.
Finally, try sending email@example.com a message. This addresses a
program that will return a MIME message to you. Just put this address in the
To field with anything as the message body and subject. Reading this message
will be described below.
The selection is dragged out with the left mouse button. You can modify the
selection by holding the Shift key while pressing the left button. A
double-click begins a word-oriented selection, and a triple-click begins a
line-oriented selection. If you drag a selection off the bottom or top of a
window the text will be scrolled automatically and the selection will be
Paste is done with the middle mouse button. The current insert point is used,
not the point at which you middle-click.
If you drag the middle mouse
button, then the window is scrolled instead as described below. There is also
a key-binding for paste, which is <Control-y>. Use <Control-w> or
the <Delete> key to delete the selection.
The middle mouse button is used for "drag-scrolling". To scroll,
simply press the middle mouse button over the text and drag the text. If you
press the Shift key, the scrolling is faster. Drag-scrolling works in the text
widgets, for vertical scrolling, and the one-line entry widgets, for
horizontal scrolling. The text widgets are used to display the folder contents
and the current message. The entry widgets are used in various dialogs in
order to enter values. You can change the scrolling button to the right button
or to only work with shift-middle. Set this up in the Simple Edit Bindings...
Buttons and menus are also sensitive to which mouse button is pressed. Only the
left button activates a button, and it is the <ButtonRelease> event that
is important. If you accidentally move the mouse off of the button as you
release it, nothing will happen. Don't worry, the wrong button will not be
Press the left button over a menu button to pull down a menu. Most of the menus
are distinguished with a "..." in their label, e.g.
"More...". The menu will go away when the button is released.
Release the mouse button off the menu if you do not want to invoke any menu
item. (In some versions of Tk, the middle button will "tear off" a
Tk menu. This is quite handy if you use the menu often. To get the menu to go
away, you must click the left button over the menu button. This will reattach
the menu to the menu button, and another left click will make the menu go
away. In the latest versions of Tk, the first menu entry is a dashed line that
invokes this tear-off operation.)
By now you should have some new mail waiting. Press the Inc button from the
middle set of buttons that do Folder operations. This will transfer messages
from your system spool file into your inbox folder. You will hear an audible
cue if there was new mail, and the table of contents will be updated to
reflect the new messages in your inbox. New messages will be underlined (on a
monochrome screen), or blue (on a color screen), to indicate that you have not
read them yet.
To view the new message, click on its line in the table of contents, or press
the Next button in the bottom group of buttons. The message will be displayed
in the bottom subwindow, and the line in the table of contents will be
highlighted to remind you which message is being displayed.
To view the next message, click the Next button. The keyboard shortcut for this
is the 'n' key.
The view the previous message, click the Prev button. The keyboard shortcut for
this is the 'p' key.
Scrolling through messages
. If you get a message that is too long to fit
into the message window, then the scrollbar will change its appearance to
indicate how much text is displayed. The scrollbar is Motif-like. You can
click on the arrows at either end to go up and down one line. If you click
above or below the elevator box you go up and down one page. You can drag the
elevator box to scroll, too.
You can also scroll text windows in exmh
by dragging with the middle
mouse button. Press the middle button over the text area, not the scrollbar,
and hold it down while you move the mouse up or down. If you hold the shift
key at the same time, the scrolling is faster. This works in the folder Table
of Contents window, too.
. The space bar is a keyboard short-cut that does a combination of
scrolling and advancing to the next message. If the message is long, then
space will scroll by one screen. Once you are at the end of the message, space
will advance to the next message, just like the 'n' key. You can use the
BackSpace key to scroll back through a message.
By now you should have also received the sample MIME message from
firstname.lastname@example.org. The MIME message has three parts to it, and
these are numbered and labeled in the display. The first part is a
multipart/alternative content, which means there are a few different ways to
view the content. This is indicated by the message under the heading 1.
that there are alternative views of the following content. Exmh
ahead and display what it thinks is the best alternative, and you see the
text/enriched content displayed in part 1.2
. If you want to see the
other alternatives, then you can press the right button over section 1 to get
a popup menu with some choices.
The next two parts are an audio clip and a picture in GIF format. The audio clip
is handled directly by exmh, and it displays two active text buttons labeled
"Play attached audio" and "Save audio file". Click on
either of these with the left mouse button. The part corresponding to the
image displays a message about what the type is, and suggests that you press
the right mouse button to display a menu. You can always press the right
button to get a MIME menu that has type-specific options for parts of your
message. If you press the right button over part 2.
, then the popup
menu will offer you these choices:
Decode part as MIME
Save Hello from the author...
View using mailcap rule...
Pass an audio fragment to metamail...
The first item is a checkbox menu item that lets you view the raw content if you
want to. The Save... menu entry displays a file selection box so you can
choose a non-temporary file to store the content. This same function is
available through the text button, but not all MIME parts displays buttons
like this. The next two entries should result in the same thing. They use the
mailcap specifications to run another program that displays the content. In
the first case, View using mailcap rule..., exmh
runs the program
directly. In the other case, Pass to metamail..., the metamail
is run first, and it decodes the mailcap file and runs the external program.
Again, the text button labeled "Play attached audio" also plays the
Select one of the messages from your friend that you'd like to answer. Press the
left button over the Reply... menu button. A menu with a few entries will be
displayed. Select the Reply to sender
menu entry by dragging the mouse
down to that entry and letting up over it. The menu entry has a <Key-r>
in it, which means that you could also press the 'r' key to invoke this
This time the built-in editor will open a window with a message that is partly
filled in. All the headers are initialized based on the header components from
the original message. The built-in editor will automatically position the
cursor at the beginning of the message body. You can enter your reply message
like you did with the previous messages. You should also double-check the
header components. In this case, add yourself to the Cc: component so you will
get a copy of the reply message. When you are done, press the Send button in
the editor window to send the message.
There are a number of ways to control the format of your reply messages. The MH
command has several formatting options, and because exmh
to set up the reply message, you can customize your reply
lets you define several variations on reply and add them
to the Reply... menu. This is described in the exmh-custom
It should not take long for you to get the copy of the reply message. Wait a
minute or so and press the Inc button. The keyboard short-cut for Inc is the
Before we go on to more things you can do with messages, we need to talk about
selecting multiple messages at once. Several of the message operations in
can operate on a set of messages. You can manually select multiple
messages by using the mouse, or you can select messages based on their
Using the Mouse
. To select messages with the mouse, press the left button
and then drag out a selection. This will select a contiguous range of
messages. If the messages you want to select are not so nicely organized, you
can make a disjoint selection by holding down the Shift key while making your
selection. This adds new messages to the selection. If you shift-click on a
message that is already selected, then it becomes unselected. If you need to
select a lot of messages, simply drag the mouse off the top or bottom of the
window. It will be scrolled automatically and the selection will be extended.
The Search... menu has several operations for finding messages and finding text
within a message. There is also a help entry that explains searching in more
If you select "Find in message body" or "Find in table of
contents" a small search dialog appears. Enter the search string and use
the Next or Prev buttons to find the next match. When you are searching over
the table of contents, you can select All to select all matching messages.
The other way to search a folder is with "Pick by attributes". The MH
pick program is used to search the current folder for messages that match mail
headers like From or Subject. You can build up boolean expressions among
search criteria. This is a much more general search mechanism than the
"Find in table of contents" operation.
Get started in the Pick dialog by pressing the "Choose pick attribute"
button. A menu of attribute types appears, including the Subject, From, To,
and Cc header components. You can type a regular expression pattern in these
entries to search for messages that have a matching header component.
The Before and After attributes are dates. You can find all messages before or
after a given date by using these fields. You can specify dates as mm/dd/yy.
Be sure to include the year. Dates can also be keywords like
"today", "yesterday", "tomorrow", and any day of
the week ("Sunday", "Monday", and so on.)
The Search attribute is used to search for something in the body of a message.
This will run little slower because pick
must read through all of your
messages, not just their headers.
If you select more than one attribute, pick
finds messages that match all
the criteria. In other words, it does the logical and
of the search
criteria. If you want to search for this or
that, then you need to
press the Or button in the dialog. This adds another set of fields to the
dialog, and pick will search for everything that matches the first set
matches the second set.
The "Add to Sel" checkbutton should be set before
you do the
search. This controls whether or not the selected messages are added to any
Finally, use the "Pick" button to do the search. Once the search has
completed you can perform a few operations on the selection. You can delete
and refile messages as described later. You can also display a new table of
contents that only contains the selected messages. Use the "New
FTOC" button for this. You can also clear the unseen state of the
messages with the "Mark Seen" button.
The "Clear" button resets the fields.
The two entries in the dialog are used to control MH sequences. The only
sequence exmh really supports well is the "unseen" sequence,
although you can define up to 10 sequences in each folder.
If you use New FTOC to get a new scan listing, it would be better if it appeared
in a new window, but currently it replaces the table of contents. You can move
around and manipulate messages in this table of contents. However, if you do
another pick, it will only find things in this limited table of contents, not
the whole folder. (Yes, this is a bug.) Use the Rescan Folder menu entry in
the folder More... menu to get a complete folder listing.
If you want to send someone a copy of a message or messages that you have
received, use the Forward message operation. Select the messages as described
in the previous section, then press the Forward button. The keyboard short-cut
for forward is the 'f' key.
The message template will have a copy of the selected messages. You fill in the
headers, and you can also add a short message before the start of the
forwarded messages. When you are done, press Send to forward the messages.
After you have read a message, you might want to remove it to keep your mail
folders tidy. Exmh
uses two steps to remove mail. In the first step you
a message as being deleted. In the second step you commit
the operations on all marked messages. It turns out that delete just renames
your message files. They will survive until you get another message by the
same number and remove it, too. In addition, exmh has a "Purge
Folder" operation that removes these renamed files if they are more than
a week old.
The Delete operation applies to the current message, or you can also select a
range of messages by dragging out a selection in the table of contents. You
can delete the current message(s) by pressing the Delete button. The keyboard
short-cut is the 'd' key. The deleted message(s) will be highlighted after the
delete operation so you can easily see the state of the message. On a
monochrome screen, a cross hatching will be drawn through the table of
contents line for the message. On a color screen, the table of contents line
will get a dark grey background.
After you mark a message for delete, you are automatically advanced to the next
message. This makes it easy to go through your folder and clean it up. Click
'd' to delete, or click 'n' to leave it alone.
. If you are really in a hurry, use 'D' and 'N' as your keyboard
short-cuts. This prevents the next message from being displayed, which can be
slow for complex multi-media messages.
When you are ready to commit the pending delete actions, press the Commit
button. The keyboard shortcut for commit is <Control-Return>.
If you decide you do not want to delete a message you can unmark it. Use the
menu entry that is under the message More... menu. The
unmark operation applies to the current message or messages, so you have to
select the messages to unmark first. The keyboard short-cut for unmark is 'u'.
. The minus, '-', keyboard shortcut takes you to the previous
message, even if it has been marked for delete. Ordinarily the Prev operation,
and the 'p' short-cut for it, will skip over marked messages.
Press the Quit button to leave exmh. It will take a few moments to close down
because it saves some state information before quitting. The Quit button will
grey out after you click it, and you will see a few status messages as it
shuts itself down.
Try out the Preferences by turning off the folder cache. This just takes up
display space if you don't have many folders. If you have lots of nested
folders, though, you might even want to make this display bigger!
Click the Preference button, which brings up a dialog that has buttons for
several of the modules that make up exmh
. Click on the Folder Cache
button to bring up the preference items that control the folder cache. In this
case there are just two items: the number of lines of labels in the cache, and
the names of folders that are always in the cache. Click in the first field
and backspace over the default value of 1. Type in 0 instead, and press
<Return>. Voila! The folder cache disappears.
If you like this setting, press Save on the main Preference dialog and your
changes will be saved to a file named ~/.exmh-defaults. Press Reset if you
want to undo your changes. You should be a little careful here, because you
are allowed to Dismiss the preference dialog without saving.
Another useful preference item to set is under Background Processing. You can
arrange for exmh
to periodically run inc
so your messages are
automatically transferred into your inbox. The advantage of doing this is that
the folder label highlighting works best this way. Unfortunately, exmh
does not give you any visual clues when mail is only waiting in your system
More details about the Preferences dialog are given in the exmh-use
page, and an overview of the various preference sections is given in the
MH is a collection of UNIX programs that store, manipulate, and display your
mail. MH originated from RAND, and it is now in the public domain. Exmh uses
these programs to do all the hard work, while it concentrates on the user
You can use the MH programs to read your mail. Run them from the UNIX command
line like you would cd, ls, cc, or make. They are useful when you are
connecting over a slow line or cannot run exmh for some other reason. For more
details, there are individual man pages for each MH program, plus one overview
man page called MH. Below is a short summary of the main MH programs used by
- Query or set the current folder.
- Incorporate mail from your system spool file into your
- Display a listing of a mail folder.
- Display a mail message.
- Display the next mail message. (Exmh doesn't actually run
- Display the previous mail message. (Exmh doesn't actually
- Delete a mail message.
- Move a message into another mail folder.
- Reply to a mail message
- Forward one or more mail messages.
- Compose a new mail message.
MH keeps track of the current folder and the current message in between uses of
these MH programs. For example:
% scan +inbox unseen
1713 04/14 foote.PARC@xerox. Have you started blasting cdroms yet?<<Probably.
1715 04/14 FlashBack Publish 1232: Tactix Introduces Break through in Unix Ad
1716 04/14 FlashBack Publish 1234: CERT Advisory - NCSA HTTP Daemon for UNIX<
1717 M04/15 To:welch PGP test<<-----BEGIN PGP MESSAGE----- Version: 2
1718 M04/17 email@example.com mime-flashback-w MIME FlashBack April 13th, 1995
1719 -04/16 Bill Wohler Notes for MH Chapters 20-22<<Brent, I have been
1720+-04/17 "Allen R. Carl" Re: Tabs<<Brent, where is this -tabs resource se
% show 1717
(Message 1717 displayed)
(Message 1718 displayed)
(Message 1718 deleted)
% repl 1717
(Set up template for reply to message 1717, invoke editor)
Each user has a .mh_profile file that stores general MH settings as well as
per-command settings. Each line has a key, and a value. For example, your mail
directory is set with the Path profile entry:
If your old mail system uses that directory already, just edit your .mh_profile
to change the name used for your MH mail folders.
This man page should get you started with exmh
. If you decide you want to
know more about it, here are some of the features described in the other
can display MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail
Extensions) messages, either directly or with the help of the metamail
package. The built-in editor lets you compose enriched text messages and
insert files as parts of a multipart message.
. You can create other mail folders to hold messages about
certain topics or from certain people. You can create a hierarchical
arrangement of folders, just like the hierarchical directory structure of the
file system. The folder display supports these nested folders
, and it
allows you to nest folders to any depth.
. Mail filtering lets you sort mail into different folders
you read it. If you get lots of mail, this is a great way to
avoid plowing through junk mail just to get your important messages. The
folder labels are highlighted to indicate which folders have unread mail in
Facesaver bitmap display
. If you have a facesaver database on your
displays the bitmap face of the person that sent the
current message (or their organization).
. You can set exmh
to run inc
periodically, check for new messages arriving asynchronously in folders, run
the MH msgchk
program, or count up the messages in your mail spool
. You can hook exmh
to your favorite editor using
script. Or, Tcl-based editors such as mxedit
interact with exmh
Keybinding User Interface
. You can define new key bindings for Tcl
commands that are part of the implementation.
Aliases User Interface
. A browser for your MH aliases lets you define new
aliases and insert aliases into mail messages.
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)
. If you have PGP, you can use it from
to digitally sign, encrypt, and decrypt messages.
. If the preference settings are not enough for you, you
can program exmh
more directly. You can define new buttons and menus
and add new Tcl code to its implementation.
exmh-use, exmh-ref, exmh-custom, mh
Brent Welch, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To Xerox PARC/CSL, for supporting this work initially, to Sun Microsystems
Laboratories for continuing the support, and to all the exmh users that
contributed ideas and code.